He’s been held at gunpoint in a robbery attempt, lost his spot with the UFC and, most recently, allowed an opponent to break his arm to get out of a submission hold.
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Brandon Vera’s ascent, slide and, now, comeback have made for a dramatic few years for the UFC light heavyweight contender.
“I’ve been through hell and back,” Vera told FOXSports.com recently. “That’s what’s going to make Saturday’s fight that much sweeter. I beat Shogun, and I’m all the way back. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every stop along the way, but I don’t have any regrets. You just have to keep moving forward.”
A victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the main event of UFC on FOX: Shogun vs. Vera at Staples Center on Saturday doesn’t guarantee a shot at the title, even though UFC president Dana White earlier this week said that was the case. Instead, the top contender will be determined by who nets the most decisive victory between Vera-Rua and the main fight on the undercard, Lyoto Machida vs. Ryan Bader.
No matter. Vera, 34, said he knows he’s one decision away from getting as close as he’s been to a belt since before his much-publicized contract dispute after he was in that position in the heavyweight division six years ago.
“I don’t even know,” Vera said on what a victory would mean to his career. “The only fight I am thinking about as far as my career goes is beating Shogun.”
This will be a more mature, focused Vera in the octagon Saturday. Vera said that could be a result of the normal course of aging — or that fateful night in October 2008 at the house of his trainer, Lloyd Irvin, in Prince George’s County in suburban Washington, DC.
Vera was awakened in the early morning hours that night in Accokeek, Md., by two gunmen who held Vera, Irvin and Irvin’s son and wife in an apparent burglary attempt. As the gunmen attempted to shepherd them into the bedroom, Irvin was able to disarm one of the gunmen.
The two gunmen fled. One of them was Jason Scott, a UPS employee at the time who used the shipping company’s database to target area homes. In total, Scott faced charges ranging from nearly 30 burglaries, several home invasions, a sexual assault and two murders. He’s currently serving life in prison.
Vera was understandably shaken by the incident. He lost a couple weeks later to Keith Jardine and split the next four fights. It wasn’t until he made a cross-country trip last October to face Eliot Marshall that he finally shed some demons from that night.
“That trip helped me get rid of those,” Vera said. “You take that trip and my last fight — where I got my arm broken — that helped me focus. Since I started in UFC, I wanted to get into this position. That’s what’s important to me, not everything else that’s going around me in my life.”
Marshall had Vera in an arm bar in that fight. Vera had been dropped by UFC after a loss to Thiago Silva in January 2011, then was rehired after Silva failed a post-fight drug test. But Vera knew he could give in here. If he had submitted, his UFC career would be in doubt once again.
“It felt like a rubber band snapping, and it sounded like paper tearing,” Vera said. “I didn’t feel it until I sat down after the fight and was going through some paperwork. That’s when the bastard started hurting bad.”
But Vera — somehow — had won the fight by unanimous decision.
“There’s a real small club of us,” Vera said of fighters who allowed their arms to be broken instead of submitting. “There’s me, Minotauro Nogueira (UFC 140) and Miesha Tate (Strikeforce on Showtime). Those are the only three that belong to the club. It’s small and exclusive. We are fighters until the day we die. I wasn’t going to tap out. You don’t quit. You’re not allowed to quit.”
Vera underwent elbow surgery to correct the damage done in the octagon that night.
“Rehabbing the elbow was a pain . . . but training was otherwise pretty good,” Vera said. “It wasn’t all that bad.”
Rehabilitating a career that looked so promising a few years back will take much less time Saturday.